In Forest Grove, expecting more from local government

By Jonathan Kipp of Forest Grove, Oregon. Jonathan says he's "increasingly involved in the Forest Grove and Washington County political scene with growing political ambition and a vision for change to keep this town thriving while retaining its 'Mayberry charm'".

If you did not know it already, you needn’t step out of your living room to see a Forest Grove City Council meeting. The videos are online. And I’ve been tuning in. True, the experience can be like watching paint dry, but reviewing the meetings has been informative.

Forest Grove’s City Council is well-meaning, despite what some say about personal agendas and their grab for free Cadillac-health insurance that comes with the job. But the council loses credibility with me when they spend time debating and deliberating, sometimes to ad nauseam, about relatively unimportant issues, particularly in the midst of such difficult times for so many.

One November meeting that I recently reviewed featured hours of discussion about sidewalk signs and the use of the public right of way. Some councilors objected to bolting newspaper boxes to city sidewalks. One councilor questioned why the city feels obligated to allow newspaper boxes on sidewalks at all. Another councilor wanted to know if the city could address the loud noise that the newspaper boxes make when customers let go of the handle. And he was serious as a heart attack.

I expect better. I expect leadership.

The council does, of course, take on more substantial issues. The topic of growth and urban and rural reserves has consumed much of their time of late. What I gather is the city council wants growth, increased urban reserves, new neighborhoods, more people moving to Forest Grove, more transportation options, more industry --- more of everything, really.

Nothing wrong with that except that I’ve not talked to one resident of Forest Grove who wants more of any of these things. I’ve never met a person who wants to have more farmland covered in cement. I’ve never met a person who is waiting for the next medium-sized multi-national manufacturing company to set up shop here so they can go to work. That is, until the company consolidates and shuts its doors. Most of us commute to our jobs; 70 percent commute to work alone in our cars. We signed up for that when we moved here. We are okay with it. It’s necessary to do what we need to do when we need to do it.

I hear folks clamoring for more restaurants and retail shops. I know I’d like to eat a good steak without big televisions surrounding me. I hear a desire for a place to buy a shirt for a Father’s Day present or a spot with a fresh bagel. I often wish Baskin-Robbins was around the corner.

The council has spent a lot of time advocating for a MAX line to Forest Grove. In fact it has been such a big issue for former Mayor Richard Kidd that he resigned his post to pursue this 6.1 mile $762 million endeavor as a county commissioner. The Oregonian reported that current Mayor Pete Truax, then a newly re-elected councilor in 2008, said his biggest priority was extending passenger rail service from Hillsboro to Forest Grove.

Not bad goals. But I’ve yet to hear anyone who lives here say they want to, are willing to, or are able to ride MAX and then hop a bus to their job in Progress. I know I won’t be spending the required two hours on buses, trains and trolleys to get to work in Northwest Portland. I’ve never met anyone who drives to Hillsboro and then rides MAX to Portland for date night at the symphony or to catch a Blazer game. I’ve never met anyone who consistently takes a bus and then MAX to PDX to catch a flight. Would you take MAX to the Hillsboro Farmer’s Market to buy a couple of crates of strawberries on a Saturday morning? Me neither.

Our mayor’s biggest priority? Really?

I support having new restrictions on signs, allowing backyard hens, library fines, transit alternatives and even the big ole’ American flag that got people so riled up. But I want a city council that is connected to the people and pursuing an agenda that puts the citizens needs first. I want our leaders to represent us.

We, the people of Forest Grove, can deal with loud newspaper box doors for now.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Would you take MAX to the Hillsboro Farmer’s Market to buy a couple of crates of strawberries on a Saturday morning?

    Me neither. Your implication, though, is you hop in the car. A growing segment of the population is giving up the car, voluntarily, full stop. For us, we don't go or we do go, but we do it on Max. Some things are worth it. Your NW commute is no worse than from Gresham. Is that untenable as well? What kind of message are you sending to those that do that commute (either) every day? "Boy, you're dumb?" That's gratitude for you.

    The extension to Forest Grove would get used by people that will not ever go there now, for the reasons mentioned. I actually chose where I live because there isn't an extension now. It matters to people. What you're saying is that for people that see their cars as a necessity, Max isn't very useful. Yes, that's a problem, but the problem is with that initial assessment of the role of your car in your life and the way you transfer those expectation onto other modes. People have to make an effort, a commitment, before it becomes easy. That takes work and they need inspiration, not a leader saying, "yeah, I wouldn't bother either".

    [Disclaimer: I don't have a clue what people in Washington Co. are thinking.]

  • (Show?)

    (full disclosure: I was appointed to the Historic Landmarks Board by the Forest Grove City Council. Councilor Johnston I've known since he was a Sgt with the FGPD. He's as stand-up of a guy as I've ever known. Councilor Uhing is the Council Liason with the HLB and has the distinction of being the ONLY politician who has ever knocked on my door and asked for my vote - that several years before I was appointed to the HLB)

    I don't typically attend Council meetings and wasn't there when newspaper boxes were discussed. Nor am I interested in wading through hours of video footage to find it. So I'll leave that issue as is.

    In terms of lightrail... Whether you or I would be willing to spend several hours commuting from Forest Grove to jobs on the east side of Portland or not is a bit of a red herring. Even the most ambitious lightrail plan is going to be incapable of transporting anything approaching even half of the population of Forest Grove to where they may wish to go, when they wish to be there.

    What is important, in my view, is that lightrail is vastly greener than all of us driving ourselves everywhere in our individual cars. Even if only a tiny fraction of Forest Grove's residents would ever use lightrail on a regular basis, I would count that as a very good thing and a net boon to the citizens, animals and plantlife of the entire region.

    Talk of extending MAX to Forest Grove is highly unrealistic. Far more realistic would be some sort of commuter train connecting Forest Grove & Cornelius to the MAX system terminus in Hillsboro. And even that is, at best, at the study stage.

    Like lightrail, commuter train travel would be greener (and ultimately cheaper) than all of us driving cars everywhere and the inevitable traffic jams, road maintainance increases and need for new roads and thoroughfares to carry the load of an ever increasing population.

  • (Show?)

    BTW, I did drive to MAX and ride lightrail into Portland a few years ago to catch an exhibition game between the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres at PGE Park.

    I'm also currently going to school in Beaverton, literally yards from a MAX station. I would LOVE to be able to ride to and from school every day rather than drive. I'm seriously considering incurring the far higher tuiton costs of attending Pacific University for some undergrad work next year rather than driving to and from the cheaper Portland State... simply because I wouldn't have to drive.

  • Dan (unverified)

    Yeah, you may want your city council to represent you and all that. But what about the rest of us here in the region? You'll have to forgive me if you find I'm not too willing to support your choices for where you live and how you travel.

    See, you may like living in Mayberry, RFD, but since there few family wage jobs out there (a fact you seem to like), you're driving - by yourself - into my city for work, clogging up the roads, spewing benzine and other toxics into the air, creating more conflicts for bikes and pedestrians, etc. Yet discussion of extending MAX out to Mayberry is evidently a non-starter for you.

    Given your impact on the region, and your seeming unwillingness to recognize it, why on earth would you think that anyone outside Forest Grove is going to be sympathetic to your choices?

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Spot on Dan, but- maybe I'm totally off here- perhaps consider that the blog is BlueOregon, not BlueSEPortland. Personally I like the other voices in the room. Keeps them from plotting behind closed doors.

    Perhaps I've been too harsh in the past, Kevin...

  • Christian Gaston (unverified)
    <h2>Jonathan, we've met only briefly in the News-Times office, but I ride the MAX from NW Portland to Hillsboro, then hop the 57 to Forest Grove nearly every day. Swing by and let me know when you're going to announce a bid for office.</h2>
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